Thursday, April 4, 2013

The importance of critique groups

Some of the members of my critique group posing with author Sandra
Brown (center in green sweater) at a EFCL Author event.
Writing can be a solitary life. All we need is a computer/laptop and a place to write. No interaction with others, no shared work space. Writing in coffee shops and libraries is fine but it's still a solitary thing. What do we do once we have a good draft of our WIP?

That was my dilemma when I first started seriously writing years back. Luckily I saw an online listing at my local community library website for a Women's Writers Group. The group met once a week for two hours. I could do that. I was curious so I signed up. I went to a meeting. For the first ten minutes I was a new face, a stranger. After introducing myself, I was welcomed by all in attendance. So many smiling faces. So many warm words of acknowledgment.

What happened? I became hooked. Why? I was surrounded by peers, by others who loved the written word and loved writing. Most wrote adult fiction, some poetry, and one other person was writing Young Adult like me. I'll readily admit I was so shy at first. Painfully shy. I still went to every meeting. Every week. I was afraid to read my work and someone commented one week that she was waiting to hear from me. That got me thinking: these individuals brought in their works, read them, and then a discussion ensued. What worked. What didn't. Grammatical errors were pointed out. Suggestions were made. During the sessions there was a lot of work and a general sense of camaraderie was apparent.

The more meetings I attended, the more comfortable I became. When I first read my chapter, my voice shook. I was scared and those butterflies competed with my voice for release. What went on afterwards? I was welcomed. I was helped. I became a member of a community.

I joined the East Fishkill Women's Writers Group in 2008. Suffice it to say I have been going ever since. Members have changed. At times meetings were tense due to conflicting viewpoints. Leadership underwent a change as well. But the group as a whole and its objective to help writers get better (in hopes of publication) has remained constant. At present the group is the strongest I've ever seen since joining. We have become a family. We gel. We are comfortable as one unit and understand each other's styles. We respect each other. Respect is crucial in the success of any group, especially when dealing with opinions and subjectivity. Viewpoints are given in a kind manner and received in the same way. There are no prima donnas among us. No one is cruel or snarky in their approach. And so we have each grown into better, stronger writers and critiquers too. It's amazing how things have changed and I'm so proud to be a member of this group.

We are not afraid to tell someone when something isn't working. We compliment freely when something is so good we have to mention it. Communicating effectively--the mix of good and what needs improvement--is a natural dynamic during the process of writing. Having others with similar interests and loves sharing in this editing process only makes the experience better. I am glad I took the step from solitary writer to a member of a critique group. I now have friends and we attend workshops, conferences, and events together when we can. Writing is now a social occupation. I continue to shed my shy shell and I wouldn't change a thing.

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